Mother Tongue Series (an excerpt) for the wounded daughters

If No One Could See

 “What would you write if no one could see?”

 Gina Frangello

what would I write if no one could see

I would write that I blame my mother

and then I would write that I was justified


it is an ugly story forged in the ugly stories

of her mother and her mother and her mother

and her mother I cannot extricate myself

from my mother I cannot get her fingers out

of my mouth when a mouse dies in the walls

of my house it can take months for the smell


to fade the mouse slowly rots until finally

its desiccated flesh turns to dust leaving only

the bones I cannot get my mother’s fingers out


of my mouth I wonder will the taste of her

fingers linger after she dies? I think maybe I will


taste her flesh persisting for days months first

bloody fresh coppery then sour then putrid putrid

putrid until there is nothing left in my mouth


but her white pebble finger bones rolling around

on my tongue after the tendons have rotted away






Mother Love

 “Of what had I ever been afraid?”

                         Audre Lorde

 of what had I ever been afraid

past dark past skin beyond stone

or fire or drowning my sponsor

once asked me this question of

what are you so afraid what will

happen if you just say no to her

past dark past fire beyond stone

my own skin burning say no just

say no easy as falling down a hole

I couldn’t give my sponsor an

answer except to say I can never

say no beyond stone beyond skin

past dark ten years on ten years

sober I can tell you the answer

it is mother love the answer for

that child is mother love it is the

bottoms of her feet slapping against

stone as she runs into the fire her

skin burning for mother love mother

love mother love what does a mother’s

disdain do to a child before she has

her speech to ask why? she keeps

running into the fire the bottoms of

her feet burning slapping against stone


This Time

 “… Here we’re all drunkards  … / joylessly … stuck together!”

                                                 Anna Akhmatova

mother I have savaged you across pages through decades across time

backwards and forwards mother Akhmatova said it best Here we’re all drunkards …/ joylessly stuck together!

I can wield words but I cannot tame us our story mother we circle

each other predator and prey we circle we spin

 birds in the wallpaper pining for air   mother why

can’t I write this story why do I hold your blood in my mouth

so much wasted time wasted words squandering time spinning in circles believing

like Anna if I tried hard enough if I wrote the words beautifully enough the sadness

the ugly my terrors your terrors could be tamed our stories rewritten

mother why can’t you remember any of your childhood

why do you love to tell the story of how I was born tiny and blue silent

and cold mother why did you tell me the earth was flat when I knew

it was round Akhmatova was right we are all just fucked

in any language mother   maman    madre    mater   mamma

I have chased you savaged you across pages across decades our truth hidden deep

our stories wound round together never quite touching

   a double grief helix mother

mamma why can’t you see me madre how did this happen maman why

couldn’t I help you tell me what name should I call you

              mother tell me if I write it right

this time this time this time this time



How She Lets Go

 “I am not the story you made of me.”

                                    —Lidia Yuknavitch

Look how her turquoise ring with its sterling silver setting

compliments her tan slender hand and the tips of her white


fingernails grown long now in summer   She has fat hands

like her father did   See how she uses her hands to carefully


brush and comb out her golden retrievers’ undercoats

shedding fast in the hot weather   She was always so


selfish   See how she watches her dogs’ eyes how she learns

their body language mimics it unconsciously how she checks


her petunias every day for aphids  She is unreliable She’s been

watching for the hummingbirds and she finally saw one


and then two flitting around the red geraniums Untrustworthy

She had been worried the hummingbirds disappeared


like the whales were disappearing off the Pacific Coast

shores   Selfish  She will buy a hummingbird feeder today


She lies   See how she couldn’t yet write about being a mother

herself but how she remembers well the shape of her sons’ baby


feet toes straight across how sweet they tasted in her mouth

as she tickled them She’s fat and has beady eyes like her father


did  She remembers how her son took her face in his little

hands saying urgently “listen to me” when her gaze drifted


far away This is how she does it now that her sons have grown

and she spends her time alone with her thoughts: she trims the fur


mats from under her dogs’ ears careful not to nick their thin skin

she turns the soil over in her garden smelling the fresh black dirt


on her hands she feeds the cardinal family nesting in her juniper

tree she waters her garden she picks zucchini blossoms


to fry for her supper and she watches with a faint smile

as a bright green garter snake slithers across her path

Signe E. Land is a queer, disabled autistic writer living in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of Minnesota and a JD from William Mitchell College of Law, graduating class valedictorian. Ms. Land’s work has appeared in William Mitchell Law Review, Bookends Review, Rivet: The Journal of Writing that Risks, Atticus Review, Lady/Liberty/Lit and others. In 2019, Ms. Land won third place in the Kay Snow Poetry Competition, Second Place in Atticus Review’s Flash Non-Fiction Contest, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry.